We Canadians were shocked earlier this week when it came to media attention that extremely inappropriate frosh week chants, extolling forced under age sex, were happening on two of our university campuses.
Administration was quick to act, consequences are being enforced, as well they should be. We as a nation are highly irate and extremely embarrassed that our own well educated and socially aware youth are blatantly choosing to endorse something so base, so immoral, so disgusting. Yes we should be.
However I think we need to step back for a few minutes to also consider the thought process of these older teens and newly twenties. Can we remember the way we also thought, or didn't think, when we were in that age group? Can some of us remember that time of trying to establish our new independence as young adults, that time of making sure that our families and friends realized we were on our own path, creating a life of our own choosing? Can we remember the accompanying immaturity that plagued us as we started down that shaky path to true adulthood?
Can we remember when we discovered the shock value in the routines of comedians like Lenny Bruce and George Carlin, or when we started watching late night television comedy programmes that pushed the envelope on what was considered humorous to previous generations? Can we remember the somewhat titillating thrill we felt the first time we heard bad language and graphic lyrics used to bring attention through music to social and political issues in our day? Can we remember how we admired people who were not afraid to use shocking language and graphic depictions of sex and violence as they tried to point out what was wrong in the world? Shock value in music, comedy, activism appealed to us because it seemed that was the way to say that we weren't afraid to let our parents and mentors know that we would find our own values. Oh, we were going to create a brave new world. We would be the masters of our own destinies, we would turn the world upside down with our academic brilliance and an intelligence that would mock our ancestors and show them how we were so much more "in the know" about the world than they were.
We also had no idea whatsoever what we were talking about or what the consequences of some of our shocking actions and conversations could be.
I suspect that many of the university students who participated in the gross chants of frosh week fall into some of these categories. They are chanting shocking things simply because they can; because it is a way of rebelling against family and childhood and displaying their independence, a way of thumbing their noses at the old ways as they attempt to forge their own pathways in life. And let's face it....young people simply don't yet have the understanding that comes with more life experience as to just how shocking and dreadful those chants really are. Most of them truly don't understand the awful reality of the words and ideas they are chanting about. I am guessing that most of the participants in the chants are not those who suffered from sexual abuse as children. (I am guessing as well that even some of the participants realized the childishness of the whole exercise as they were participating and were all ready assuming it to be a last hurrah as they grow past such things.)
Each generation of new adults uses shock value in their expressions of music, humour, activism to show they are "different" than the generation before. As each generation accepts another step in the decline of morality as the norm, what subsequent generations have to say and do to be ever more shocking in their expression is also going to have to take another step down the morality ladder, closer to the bottom of the barrel.
This should not surprise us. It should sadden us. It should make us more determined than ever to take every opportunity to help young people understand actions and possible consequences. It should anger us about the direction our entire society is going to the point where we actively do all we can to try to reverse the direction and save our young people from further downfall into decay.
I am very sorry that these young people did what they did, that many of them likely did not understand and maybe still don't fully understand what they were actually promoting in what they thought was simply a somewhat shocking chant during the annual humiliating (and completely unnecessary) frosh week activities. I am glad that the universities involved are taking direct action against this dreadful event. Let's just keep things in perspective when we consider the age of the students, the lack of life experience for most of them that hinders their full understanding of the horrible things they were chanting about. Let's remember some of the shocking things we ourselves said and did at that age.* Let's remember that, like ourselves, most of these young people will grow up and get past what they participated in this week and look back at those actions in later years with some sense of shame, some recognition such as we had as we aged that we weren't as brilliant or as shocking or as intelligent at the time as we thought we were.
*This is written with the knowledge and understanding that not every young person goes through this process of needing shock value in their maturing years to make their break away from family and create their own brave new world of personal values. I am speaking very generally and from my own memories of growing up.